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Wheelchair users: everything you need to know about air travel

Travelling is a stressful time for many, but even more so if you have mobility issues to plan around. There are many things to take into consideration before you leave, such as the accessibility options for various travel stations you are passing through. Airports can present a unique problem in this way. To explore the matter further, we’ve teamed up with living-independently.

By current aviation laws, wheelchairs are not allowed to be taken on board a plane. This is a ruling which has sparked a lot of debate, with questions of passenger safety and dignity arising in discussions. Consequent campaigns, such as the work of Flying Disabled, are suggesting that the government must act to implement legislation, to rethink policies on travelling with a disability. Airports are often hectic, busy environments but some prior knowledge can be useful to navigate accessible facilities such as toilets.

The only option right now is for wheelchairs to be stored in the hold. The advice from outlines the importance of contacting your airline as soon as possible should you intend on travelling with a wheelchair or mobility aid; however the impacts of being without mobility assistance are often difficult to resolve. Typically, airline policies should include some guidance or help for the boarding process, to ensure that the traveller feels safe. Travel is a notoriously wealthy industry, and ABTA have found that there are currently more than 11 million disabled people in the UK, which underlines the need for an increase in inclusivity.

Health and safety is the common fallback reason for this law, but airlines aren’t helping themselves with their poor communication and approach to the issue. A common problem faced by travellers is that their mobility aid may not fold up, and therefore cannot be stored, leaving the customer relatively helpless. There have also been numerous reports of chairs becoming damaged while in motion, which prompts questions of the treatment of accessible travel and the measures currently in place to support it.

Campaigners are looking for a wheelchair designated zone on board a flight in order to help matters. While wheelchairs can be used safely to navigate the airport terminal itself, the issues faced on board can be avoided with enough planning ahead of travel. Requesting an aisle seat is helpful for getting to and from the toilet facilities, allowing for mobility while flying.

Sadly, wheelchair users often find themselves let down or worse, left utterly stranded. Multiple organisations are working to amplify this sentiment as wheelchairs are essentially the key to independence for those effected by disability, and policies of the travel industry could perhaps be doing more to appreciate this.

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